ISL W2W4: BFC target invincibility, Pune welcome Phil Brown
After a five-week break, the Indian Super League is back in action, with a number of high-profile clashes. As the runaway leaders, Bengaluru FC are all but through to the playoffs, but the remaining three spots are still up for grabs.
Can Nelo Vingada win Blasters' fans over?
Nelo Vingada has had a lot of success in his career. His last major triumph, though, came in 2010, when he led FC Seoul to the K-League title. Since then, he has managed 86 matches - for Chinese club Dalian Shide, the Iran U-22 team, Portuguese club Maritimo, NorthEast United and Malaysia -- and won just 23 of them.
That's a win-rate of slightly below 27%. Not exactly confidence inspiring, especially for a club that just cannot seem to buy any of it this season.
Blasters have one win, six draws, and five losses from their 12 games, lacking any real cohesion moving forward. Vingada's first job is to shore up the defence, but he could well struggle to fix a faulty forward-line, especially with the departure of CK Vineeth to Chennaiyin FC.
While qualifying for the playoffs may be a distant dream, the team's immediate priority should be getting fans back into their seats at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.
A win against ATK, the only team they've beaten so far this season, would certainly be a good way to start.
Kerala Blasters vs ATK: Jan 25
BFC aim for invincibility
Eleven games, eight wins, three draws. It's not that BFC are playing spectacularly well, it's that they are finding a way to win, or at least not lose, even when they aren't.
Carles Cuadrat has injected more than a measure of pragmatism to his predecessor (and former boss) Albert Roca's more free-flowing football and Bengaluru look even more dangerous as a result. At this same stage last season, they had scored more than three goals a game five times and had conceded more than two three times. This season, they have scored more than two goals just once, but have not conceded more than one in any game. They are happy to cede possession, play on the counter and sit on single-goal leads.
For a defensively solid BFC - no one else has conceded fewer than their eight goals - it's no longer a question of whether they will qualify for the playoffs, but whether they can do it while remaining unbeaten.
In Mumbai City -- second on the table, and second-lowest in goals conceded - they will kick off the post-break leg of their campaign with arguably their toughest test in this quest for invincibility.
Mumbai City vs Bengaluru FC: Jan 27
Will NorthEast finally qualify for the playoffs?
Eighth, fifth, fifth, tenth. For four seasons now, NorthEast United have started campaigns well only to fall short of qualifying for the playoffs. This time, though, things look slightly different. Coach Eelco Schattiore has moulded a side that has found consistency, and an attacking edge that has eluded them in past seasons.
Led by their captain Bartholomew Ogbeche, NorthEast have scored 16 goals this season. That is already more than what managed during any other season except 2015, when they hit 18 - a tally that'll surely be surpassed soon. Above all else, NorthEast look far more capable of killing matches off than they have before.
They'll need to keep this momentum going, and a win against rock bottom Chennaiyin could well set them on the right track to finally make the top four.
NorthEast United vs Chennaiyin: Jan 26
Free-flowing Goa face Jamshedpur test
Goa don't do pragmatism. Sergio Lobera's men have scored 27 (most, by a margin, in the league), conceded 17 (more than anyone in the top six) and if the signing of Moroccan attacking midfielder Zaid Krouch is any indication, Lobera is sticking to his guns. This philosophy of his didn't hurt the team last season - their entry into the top four was relatively straightforward - but with the teams around them improving in quality, a lack of pragmatism could cost him.
Goa's first match post-break, against Jamshedpur, will kick-off what promises to be an exciting race for the top four.
Goa vs Jamshedpur: Jan 28
Was appointing Phil Brown the right call?
Pune City have appointed Phil Brown as head coach. On the surface, bagging the former Hull City manager seems a decent deal, but that's before you take into account the fact that he was sacked by English League Two (fourth division) side Swindon Town after winning just five of the 17 league games he was in charge for this season. Swindon were 17th at the time of his departure (and are now 11th after 29 matches).
With Pradyum Reddy having done an admirable job (three wins in his last 5 matches) as caretaker following the ignominious departure of Miguel Angel Portugal, was it necessary for Pune to appoint a replacement, especially one with such an unconvincing recent record?
He will face a litmus test against Chennaiyin, who are currently bottom of the table with just seven points from 12 matches.
Chennaiyin vs Pune City: Feb 02